Author: Kurt Kalata
Release Date: 05/12/2015
Formats: Colour Paperback & Kindle
The problem with a book titled ‘The 200 Best Video Games of All Time’ is not that it leaves itself open to debate – this was undoubtedly intended (and successful, if this review is anything to go by). Any list worth its salt should have the temerity to claim authority, rather than kowtow to consensus in an attempt to please everyone and no-one. It’s instead that the title seems unnecessarily misplaced.
Having now amassed around a dozen books in the same vein covering classic gaming series’, Hardcore Gaming 101's The 200 Best… is perhaps amongst its most enticing: a full-colour publication with over 200 pages featuring artwork, screenshots and synopses of all games. Box-outs also accompany each entry, suggesting similar or further learning on the genre or series, as well as an overfill of almost-made-it games stuffed in towards the back. No space is wasted, and although the same washed-out printing remains, this self-published piece is a sturdy hold, and features wonderfully colourful cover-art.
Whereas other titles from the prolific HG101 crew have tended towards humourless, glossary-style listings (notably the case with the first SEGA Arcade Classics), here each game is carefully dissected to reveal the trajectory and heart of the games’ appeal, leaving pertinent plot details and control descriptions to a minimum. That this is managed so consistently and within such limited space (only a page is dedicated for each game) is impressive, but the incisive writing remains knowledgeable throughout. Games are not numerically ordered or classified as such, but each flows approximately from genre to genre, meaning that the next page usually features a similar or progression of the title from the previous one.
The first hundred or so are a particular delight to pour over, and what soon becomes obvious is that Kurt Kalata and team are attempting to document a list with astute choices, avoiding hackneyed picks highlighted so many times before. It’s the book’s defining –and strongest– position, in fact. Notable selections are contentious (Super Mario Bros. 3 over Super Mario World); others are dubious (Burnout 3 over Burnout 2); and others still are fairly preposterous (Majora’s Mask over Ocarina of Time). For the most part these manage to pleasingly entice, if not convince, but its contrarian viewpoint veers into somewhat odd territory at times, too. Megaman Legends, Crash Bandicoot 3, Max Payne 2 and Freedom Fighters all feature, whereas Super Mario 64, neither any iteration of Grand Theft Auto, Halo, Ridge Racer, Quake, or even Tetris appear.
The writers clearly have a breadth of experience across all formats and eras, pulling in specialist writers for certain genres. But it’s eventually apparent that PC games, and those availble on the platform, comprise almost half of the 200 entries, many of which include some of the formats’ worst excesses - with text adventures, point-and-clicks, real-time strategy, and our dearest friend, the FPS. Again, this isn’t to be scoffed at per se, and is in line with providing the reader with an alternative, enlightened persuasion for what makes a classic. The problem is the bias becomes far too skewed, and other formats struggle to make up the numbers, with Sega Saturn (7) Nintendo DS (6), Nintendo 64 (3) and GBA (1) notably relegated. Some of the 55 entries at the back of the book would have been welcome substitutions for ones that did make the cut, too.
And that brings us back to our original assertion on the book's title. Is this really documenting the best this medium has to offer, collated from all of time, as it claims? Or, could it more accurately be a presentation of ‘200 alternative classics’, persuasively argued and lovingly documented? That surely would have been a more satisfactory choice. But then, would such a title have given readers pause for thought as they internally debate whether Bare Knuckle 2 deserves its place over Final Fight in the top 200? Maybe that was the purpose all along.
Buy it, and find out for yourself.